What are some examples of connotation in "A & P" by John Updike?

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Words can have two kinds of meanings, denotative and connotative. Denotative meanings are the strict literal meanings of a word. Connotative meanings are the added emotional weight certain words have. A common example is the difference between the words frugal and cheap. Both mean the same thing, being careful about money, but the connotative or emotional meaning of cheap is far more negative, implying a character flaw, than the connotative meaning of frugal.

Because we see the story of "A&P" through the eyes of Sammy, his emotional reaction to what he is seeing colors his thoughts and therefore affects the words he uses. For instance, the connotations of the words he picks to describe his manager, Lengel, show Sammy's negative opinion of him. Sammy states:

Lengel comes in from haggling with a truck full of cabbages on the lot and is about to scuttle into that door marked MANAGER behind which he hides all day when the girls touch his eye.

Using the word "haggling" instead of bargaining or negotiating gives the impression that Lengel was involved in some sort of vaguely petty, sordid, or low class negotiation with the cabbage trucker. Second, using the word "scuttle" to describe Lengel's movement to his office lacks dignity and likens him to an animal.

However, when it comes to Queenie, after he hears her voice, Sammy uses words with positive connotations to describe how he imagines parties at her house:

the women were in sandals picking up herring snacks on toothpicks off a big plate and they were all holding drinks the color of water with olives and sprigs of mint in them.

"Picking up herring snacks" paints a dignified, upper class picture and the description of the cocktails sounds classy. A sharp difference appears in the lower class connotation of Schlitz bear and the cartoon-stenciled glasses that speak to free give-aways as Sammy thinks of his parents' parties:

When my parents have somebody over they get lemonade and if it's a real racy affair Schlitz in tall glasses with "They'll Do It Every Time" cartoons stenciled on.

Martinis and beers, in a factual, denotative sense, are simply two different kinds of drinks, but they carry far different class connotations: martinis connote upper-class life and beers—at least Schlitz—the lower classes.

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A connotation, or connotative meaning, is something implied by a word or phrase even though it might be quite separate from the literal, actual, textbook meaning of that word or phrase. Connotations are used all over the world and depend upon cultural and historical context, but they also depend upon the demographic of the user—teenagers, for example, might use connotations which are understood implicitly by their peers but which their own parents would need to have explained to them.

In this story, which is written in an informal and conversational tone, there are several examples of connotation. At the very beginning, for instance, a "plaid green two-piece" is described. We, the reader, understand that a type of bathing suit is being described here, but this isn't stated explicitly—it is only implied through the use of this common connotation.

The previous Educator gives some other examples of connotation from early in the story, pertaining to the "witch" at the checkout (who is, obviously, not literally a witch). If we keep reading, however, we can find more—for example, think about the children "chalked up on [Stokesie's] fuselage." We may understand from implication that this is a reference to the wartime practice by aviators of chalking up their "kills" on the fuselage of their aeroplanes; in this context it simply means, however, that Stokesie has two more children noted against his name. Stokesie is not an airman and does not have a fuselage, but we can derive a lot of information about our narrator from this connotative language: what he thinks about, who his heroes are, and what the world around him uses as a frame of reference.

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A connotation is a word that has two meanings: its literal interpretation and the cultural interpretation that it is given. Many phrases that we use today in our language have no literal meaning in the context in which we use them, however they have come to be accepted as having a secondary meaning, such as "raining cats and dogs."

In "A & P," we are given a first-person account from a young man, who, understandably, expresses things as he sees them one day working behind the till from his own cultural understanding. Thus it is that this account contains many connotations. Consider the following examples:

By the time I got her feathers smoothed and her goodies into a bag... the girls had circled round the bread and were coming back.

Note how the expression "feathers smoothed" refers to the "witch" of a customer that the narrator was serving as the girls entered. This literally of course has no meaning: the woman has no feathers, but the narrator is referring to calming her down and restoring her composure after she has just "given him hell." This of course is another connotation. The woman is unable to literally give "him hell," but it refers to her sudden anger and annoyance when the narrator accidentally rings one of her purchases up twice.

So, hopefully with these two examples you will be able to go on and re-read this excellent story, looking for more examples of connotation. Good luck!

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